Operation Finale, a film about the 1960 operation to capture Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, is far from the first movie to depict the hunt for an escaped Nazi leader, but director Chris Weitz might have the most interesting personal connection to the material. His father, John, was a German-born Jew whose family fled Hitler in the 30s and moved to the US, where he was recruited into the OSS (the precursor to the CIA). He later returned to Germany in the waning days of the war, going undercover and infiltrating the last remaining pockets of Hitler loyalists, at one point going so far as to get an SS tattoo and then burning it off, just to properly look the part.
I mention this mostly because it’s an interesting story, but also because Operation Finale is the closest either of Hollywood’s filmmaking Weitz brothers (Chris directed Golden Compass, the second Twilight, and About A Boy; his brother Paul directed American Pie, In Good Company, Admission, and Grandma) have come to putting one of their father’s stories on film. It’d be a bit rich to suggest that Weitz was the person to make this film because of who is father is (John Weitz also died in 2002), but it does seem possible that growing up with a man who seemed to all the world a dashing war hero (John Weitz’s obituary notes that James Bond producer Cubby Broccoli once told Weitz that he was just like Bond, only more handsome) but who still had demons helped him avoid some of the usual pitfalls of feel-good, Nazi retribution stories.
Operation Finale, scripted by Matthew Orton, is a lot more nuanced than “Nazis bad, kill ’em good,” as much as I do enjoy that basic framework. Ben Kingsley stars as Adolf Eichmann, “the architect of the final solution,” who was smuggled out of Argentina by Mossad agents to stand trial in Israel. Oscar Isaac stars as Peter Malkin, part of an extraction team that includes characters played by Melanie Laurent, Nick Kroll, Lior Raz, and Michael Aronov.
Simply put, I’m a sucker for a good Nazi-killin’ movie, the older and more decrepit the Nazis the better (I like my ex-Nazis the way Grover Norquist likes his government, so weak and diminished you can drown them in the bathtub), but it takes Weitz fewer than five minutes to establish that Operation Finale isn’t going to be your typical feel-good Nazi-killin’ romp. The opener finds Malkin (Isaac) on an operation in Austria in 1954, snatching an ex-Nazi during his family dinner. He talks to the man’s wife while his comrades drag the man outside, and it only dawns on Malkin that they’ve got the wrong guy seconds before he hears the gunshots announcing the man’s summary execution. Oops!